Monday 30 October 2017

131 The Balinka Expeditions

131 The Balinka Expeditions
Peninsular Gower’s subterranean caves were explored during the 1950s and 1960s by the unlikely trio of Maurice Clague Taylor and his sisters Marjorie and Eileen.  At an age when less demanding activities might be expected, they were caving pioneers in this area.  But even caving in Gower can have its hazards, as when in November 1961 three young cavers exploring an abandoned lead mine in Brandy Cove made the grisly discovery of the dismembered skeleton of Mamie Stuart, who had been murdered forty years earlier.  But it takes particular courage to deliberately set out to recover bodies of those who have been violently killed, which was the mission of some members of South Wales Caving Club in the 1960s.
In the upper Swansea valley Dan-yr-Ogof cave was first explored in 1912 by three local Morgan brothers, which led later to that extensive cave network being opened up to the public.  Across the valley, the headquarters of the South Wales Caving Club is in the former quarrying village of Penwyllt, along with that of the South and Mid Wales Rescue Team, also located in Powell Street’s terraced houses.  The Caving Club has around 300 members from all over Britain, and makes frequent trips to other British caving regions, as well as embarking on overseas expeditions.  One such expedition, to Balinka, about 60 miles south of Zagreb, concerns us.                
Members of the South Wales Caving Club had been caving in the former Yugoslavia in 1961, when a Bosnian mentioned an event that occurred during World War II.  When Germany had invaded Yugoslavia, resistance came from communist partisans under future President Tito.  On 2nd April 1942 four prominent partisans were murdered by guerrillas known as the Chetniks, and their bodies flung down a vertical pot-hole called Balinka pit.  After the War two of the deceased were declared national heroes, and attempts made to recover the bodies for burial; but at a depth exceeding 500 metres the pit was too deep for local cavers.  South Wales Cavers offered to help, and received a formal invitation in May 1964 from the Croatian Speleological (the scientific study of caves) Society. 
In Penwyllt it was decided that a motorised winch would have to be built, capable of hauling a man-carrying cage up and down the main shaft.  Anticipating an exceptional depth, a cage with a power-driven winch was built by the late Gwyn Sanders, who lived at Twynybedw Road in Clydach.  Having worked as a mechanical engineer in local coal mines, he was then working at Clydach’s Mond Nickel Works.  In the summer of 1964 the first expedition set out from Penwyllt in a modified bus carrying all the equipment for the long drive to Yugoslavia, with the group having to cope with mechanical problems along with customs delays at international borders.  Balinka is in an area of mixed forest, so all the equipment had to be hauled to the entrance of the pit by Land Rover, horses, and expedition members.  Some trees in the State-owned forest near the pit entrance even had to be felled by foresters.  There was telephone contact between the winch cage occupant (and it was sometimes two people) and the winch operator and others on the surface.  Although several descents were made which gradually extended the known depth of Balinka, time ran out and it was necessary to return to Wales. 
After some adjustments and re-designing of equipment, a second expedition in 1966 managed with much difficulty to recover the bones of the men murdered 24 years earlier, which were placed in four metal coffins.  Those four Partisans had been war-time comrades of President Tito, so the undertaking aroused much media interest, and the cavers received medals of appreciation from the president himself.  The South Wales Caving Club can take pride that their members, including Gwyn Sanders from Clydach, successfully performed this demanding and compassionate recovery.

No comments:

Post a Comment